Category Archives: Behavorial Genetics

Memory and empathy studies launch on crowdsourced health platform!

Two new health studies organized by DIYgenomics and collaborators have recently launched on the crowdsourcing platform Genomera. One is a memory study: Dopamine Genes and Rapid Reality Adaptation in Thinking and the other is an empathy study: Social Intelligence Genomics & Empathy-Building.

The Genomera platform boasts over 700 community members who are interested in participating in studies. While several of the approximately 30 listed studies investigate genetics as a related component of health, it is not necessary to have data from 23andMe or other consumer genomics services to join the health collaboration community and participate in studies. There are already 40 participants in the memory study and almost 20 in the empathy study.

The objective of the memory study is to see if genetic variants related to dopamine processing in the brain impact the processing of memories. The study is being conducted in conjunction with leading researchers at the Center of Cognitive Neurorehabilitation in Geneva Switzerland. The participation requirements are to complete an online Memory Filtering Task which takes approximately 40 minutes and a short Demographic Survey.

The objective of the empathy study is to confirm and extend research linking genetic profile and social intelligence, specifically whether individuals with certain genetic profiles may have a greater natural capacity for optimism and empathy, extraversion, and altruism. The participation requirement is to complete two short standardized online surveys for empathy quotient and other personality attributes. In addition, there is an optionally available Personal Virtual Coach app for empathy-building, a sort of SIRI 2.0 for mental performance optimization.

Genetic Testing to Treat Disease: Should We Do It?

If you could take a genetic test as an infant and prevent diseases from occurring later in life, would you?  If the costs of testing and follow-up treatment were low enough I think almost everyone I know would answer yes to this question.  Indeed, if the tests and treatments were offered free of charge by government or a health care provider, you could argue that denying the test could be an unethical act of “willful blindness.”  As genetic testing gets more and more accurate, these ethical questions become much more than classroom debate topics, they become real issues.

For me, the question of genetic testing has special significance because I live with chronic back pain caused from a disease that many experts in the field believe has a genetic component.  While researchers have not isolated the gene that caused the development of my Scheuermann’s disease, multiple case studies of monozygotic twins with the disease suggest a genetic linkage.

If a Scheuermann disease-causing gene were to be isolated, then early genetic testing may offer huge rewards to those who find out they have the gene early in life.  Special spinal braces are often indicated for Scheuermann’s sufferers because the disease causes a curving of the spine.  One must use these braces early in life, usually as a teenager; because once the spine is fully developed they lose effectiveness.  Early diagnosis is important for Scheuermann’s disease just like many other chronic diseases including heart disease, and type 1 diabetes to name a few.  There are treatments for all of these diseases I just mentioned; the key is knowing early enough to implement them.

The knowledge that you are genetically predisposed to a chronic disease can be a lot to handle.  It can have a number of far-reaching implications.  Genetic testing offers the possibility of knowing whether or not you could pass your disease on to your children.  This kind of knowledge can be hard to process but that does not, in my opinion, mean that we should ignore it.  Knowledge of our diseases gives us power over them, keeping us from falling into the role of “victim”.

For me, the knowledge that I have Scheuermann’s disease means a number of things.  It means I have to swim at least an hour a day to keep my pain in check.  It means I have to do a series of stretches everyday to keep my core strong and to keep my tight hamstrings, an unusual symptom of the disease, loose.  Swimming, stretching, and a top-quality mattress enable me to control my disease and live a happy, fulfilling, and hopefully long life.

Blog post by Jon deKay

On Behaviorial Genetics, Malcom Gladwell, and Credit Card Debt

Sometimes it’s disturbing to find out how your genes may affect you. Whenever I tell people that genes may affect your proclivity to credit card debit, or your chances of having an eating disorder, or whether you may become an entrepreneur, people look at me with surprise.

It’s a given that genes dictate your physical make up and risk for disease .  But people are still uncomfortable with the idea that genes play a part in our personality.  How we think; our choices in life, we like to think of these as entirely our own…not something that our genes can predetermine.

As of now the link between genetics and personality, or behavioral genetics is still a relatively new field. To untangle our motivations from our genes and or environment and our upbringing is a difficult process.  But some day  in the future, I may be able to take a DNA test and find out I am 30% more likely to incur credit card debit than the average person. The question becomes, what do I do with this information?

Most of you may have heard of Malcolm Gladwell, famous social psychologist, and author of The Tipping Point and Blink. What you may not know about Gladwell is that he used to be a runner in his teens.  A good one. In fact Gladwell was the one of the best middle distance runners in Canada.  In high school, he beat runners who eventually went on to win Olympic medals.

Genetically Gladwell was a running prodigy. But here is where choice comes into play. Gladwell chose to give up running and turn his mind to social psychology. Other runners who were maybe not as genetically gifted chose to continue to run and went on to be best athletes in the sport.  As an interesting article on the myth of prodigy observes:

“Really what we mean … when we say that someone is ‘naturally gifted’ is that they practice a lot, that they want to practice a lot, that they like to practice a lot.”

Knowledge of genetics can serve to inform our choices and behaviors in life. If I know that I am 30% more impulsive and likely to incur credit card debt than the average person. I can chose to use this information in one of two ways. I can let it become my mental crutch, and feel victimized by my genes. Or I can be mindful and find strategies and skills to improve upon this weakness.

In the end, I firmly believe that what you chose to do with information about your genetics is more crucial  than what your genetics  tell you.